Two Peas in a Pod

One of the things I love most about this enlightening journey of my personal growth is the reconnection with friends from my past. Who knew that my blog and my social media posts about my experiences would be the spark that rekindled old friendships?

It turns out that parts of my stories resonated at a time when my friends found themselves in a similar place, contemplating what wasn’t really working in their lives, struggling with relationship issues, or trying to find their way forward after a major adversity or loss. We often discover common ground when another’s story reflects parts of our own life back to us. There are elements of our experiences that are so relatable, we feel safe to reach out for connection and support.

That is exactly what unfolded as my friends were processing their own lives and happened upon my blog or social media posts. I am so grateful for these reconnections because these are friends that I have shared so much of my earlier life with and it feels so good to reminisce, to laugh and to discover all that has transpired since we last saw each other. What we valued in each other way back then is what we still value in each other today. Often, we help each other blow the dust away to see the hidden treasures deep inside of us that we may be having difficulty finding in the present chapter of our lives.

I marvel at the very different paths that each of our lives have taken and yet there are so many common threads that run between our stories of careers, marriages, parenthood, family dynamics, major life events and choices we have made over the decades. There have been a great variety of reasons for each of us to take a step back from our lives and give serious consideration to things we wish to change.

When we take in another’s story and recognize that we have had similar experiences, we feel a sense of relief. We feel less alone. It reminds me of Brene Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me” where she emphasizes that our imperfections are what connects us to one another and to our humanity. Our vulnerabilities are powerful reminders to keep our hearts and minds open to the reality that we are all in this together.

In the case of these rekindled friendships, there was also a reminder of our shared values and the comfort we found in each other when we first forged our friendships years ago. All these things combine to create a bridge from the past to the present and a knowing that it is safe to share our full stories.

I was both humbled and deeply touched that my friends would reach out to me because something in my blog resonated with them. While I had always hoped that what I was learning myself would in turn help others, it was an unexpected gift to discover it was meaningful to my friends — women that I knew, loved and respected; women who in turn knew me so well.

One of those rekindled friendships has evolved into a deeper, more encompassing relationship than either of us could have ever imagined.

My dear friend, Judy Chesters, and I met when we were just 18 years old and starting our first job right out of high school. We worked for a small law firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At that time, we bonded over our Lancaster roots, humble beginnings and hopes for our future. We were two peas in a pod. Eventually our lives took different paths – though in a small town like Lancaster, we’d run into each other and pick up right where we left off. Some friendships are just like that — no matter how much time and life fills the spaces in between seeing each other, it is easy to catch up and reconnect. As often happens however, we fell out of touch as we both got so busy with growing families, juggling jobs, health issues, and life. I had also moved to West Chester, PA and then later to Florida. I did see Judy once in Lancaster before I moved to Florida when we ran into each other at the Park City Mall. We exchanged mobile phone numbers and friended each other on Facebook. That chance meeting turned out to be very fortuitous.

Just a few years later, Judy was reading my newly launched blog and decided it was time to call me rather than just hit “like” or offer a supportive comment on Facebook. Not surprisingly, we picked up right where we left off, chatting with ease to each other. However, this call took a sharp right turn and a deep dive — turns out we both were doing some soul searching and personal development work. It was one of my blog posts that really hit home with Judy and prompted her to call me.

Looking back, I can still picture where I was sitting that day, the Arizona sunshine warming me — but not as much as the heartfelt conversation that Judy and I shared. While our lives had taken completely different paths, so much of what we experienced over the past few decades had remarkable similarities. Even though our circumstances were polar opposites, the personal development discoveries we were making were nearly identical. Judy and I became trust buddies committed to helping each other on our inner work/personal growth journey. Two peas in a pod once again.

I recently asked Judy if she’d be willing to be a guest writer on my blog. I wanted her to share from her own perspective what it was that prompted her to do some re-evaluation of her life five or six years ago. Her insights are so impactful and I am so grateful that she agreed to share them here.:

I have known for a very long time I am an individual who thinks and feels differently than most people — many people would say that I am just “too sensitive” as if I have control over how I am wired. I feel deeply, I love deeply, I care deeply and I feel others’ pain deeply. I have a strong intuition and a result of these, I can hurt deeply.

I have a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of my own, often times not realizing that I too have needs. Emotionally, I became worn down by others who would embrace that part of me for my sensitivity and how it served them, but criticized me when my “sensitivity” did not serve them. As a result of this pattern of behavior and feeling exhausted and defeated, I had to accept the fact that I needed to embrace who I was to survive — and I had to find the balance to stay true to myself while protecting the heart that was given to me.

I worked tirelessly, reading and practicing some behavioral changes and it was a very difficult journey.

I was blessed to have my dear friend, Amy, and a few very close friends who were going through similar personal growth to help me stay on track.

I had to look deep inside of me and accept the fact that some of my own behavior patterns were keeping me trapped and getting in my way of moving forward. One of the biggest things I had to do was set some healthy boundaries to protect my heart. When boundaries were set, some embraced it while others did not. I realized that I did not have control over how others accepted my “change” and I could respect that.

I had the ability to live my life in a way that kept me true to myself for my intended “purpose” in life, using my God-given gifts to help others and I was no longer tethered to those who felt I needed to become “less sensitive” because it somehow made then feel “less than”. I have learned to respect myself and embrace the number of people who are in my life that understand my heart – they know my “core values.” I am far from perfect and I remind myself daily that I am ok with keeping distance from those that don’t understand my heart — and quite honestly, if others feel that way, why would they want to be a part of my life anyway? This has nothing to do with my love or caring for others. It is just a healthy boundary for self-care — and sometimes means loving “from a distance”.

I am so energized by living a life that aligns with who I am and not being burdened by anyone that doesn’t understand me. I am OK with that. I encourage others to look inside of themselves to align with who they are.

We are all different and have different purposes in. life. We all need to be the healthiest version of who we were meant to be — and discover that for ourselves. No one else can do it for us.

I love having women over for coffee just to chat and encourage each other to keep growing and to share resources for that growth. It is then, when we are able to have peace and contentment of knowing who we are, that we are able to “serve” others in a way that aligns with our individuality. ” —- Judy Chesters

My dear friend Judy is a born empath. I have known this about her since I first met her and it was likely the very reason I was drawn to her. As she shares, being an empath meant that she often took on others’ pain as though it were her own. There is no doubt in my mind that Judy’s young life experiences influenced her as a deeply compassionate, intuitive empath. She is one of those very rare people who can sit with others in their darkest hours without flinching. She has even done this for total strangers and somehow seems to find the words of comfort they so urgently need. I often tell her that she is God’s airbags for others when life is crashing all around them.

Perhaps the most noteworthy transformation that I have seen in Judy through all the personal growth work she has done, is that she is no longer overwhelmed physically and emotionally because of her gift of deep empathy. She has discovered a rare ability to stay grounded while also being a source of great comfort, support and healing for others. The people who come into Judy’s life are often in need of the most intensive care. It is not all surprising to me that Judy frequently forges meaningful, long term friendships with people she has supported through some of their hardest trials.

What Judy and I have both learned is that having a “study buddy” for personal growth work is truly invaluable. We are sounding boards for each other; we share resources and tools that we find helpful. We are honest and open about the patterns and responses we are working on. We cheer for each other when we make real progress and we support each other when the work gets challenging.

It is so gratifying today when we have our long conversations and witness the positive changes that have occurred in each of us. We are discovering that as we have shifted into the healthier, better versions of ourselves, we have more energy, more joy and a broader scope of awareness. We both feel more in alignment with our values and our life purpose.

We do have a few good laughs about how the old versions of ourselves might have shown up and the repercussions of that. Without a doubt, this is better!

When Judy shared with me that she was setting up a little library in her home for the books and resources that we have found helpful – and would regularly be inviting small groups of women over for coffee, I was overjoyed. I can just imagine the friendships that will be created, the stories that will be shared and the personal growth that will emerge.

In our wildest dreams, I don’t believe either of us thought our personal growth journey would be so rewarding. Over the past few years, we have both grown our circle of marble jar friends — and we are delighting in seeing each of them tap into their potential and share their unique gifts with the world.

I will close this post with a giant thank you to my lifelong friend, Judy, for being so genuine and so supportive.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Judy and I found the enneagram very useful. We both read The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. We discovered we are both dominant enneagram type 2 – and I told her she would laugh and cry when she read about us in this book. The enneagram puts a spotlight on behavioral patterns that hinder us. The best part of the enneagram is that it helps you move toward the healthy end of your spectrum. Check out The Enneagram Institute online for an introduction to this worthwhile tool.

Brene Brown’s books, both her podcasts (Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us) and her Ted Talk all served as great resources. The Gifts of Imperfection is a personal favorite.

Both of us have journaled most of our lives. Judy and I find journaling one of the best way to process our emotions, do deep reflective work and get to know ourselves better.

I’ll be updating this post with Judy’s recommendations for books on being an Empath; and on her favorite Daily Devotionals.

Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser is another remarkable book – and is great for discussion with a good friend.

New Year, New Look

Call me a forever optimist, but there is just something about a brand new year that brings a sense of rejuvenation and hope to me. One of the reasons I am so uplifted is the bigger community I am feeling a part of — a community of people who are actively discussing personal development and embracing meaningful changes in their lives.

This collective positive energy and rich, deep conversations inspired me to revamp my blogging website and I am unveiling it today! It’s a brand new look with some major changes to my navigational menu. Gone are tabs that are no longer relevant and in their place are ones I believe better suit the evolving direction of my blog.

I have a renewed focus for my blog now. It’s my strong desire that it will become a resource for others — a place where they can discover helpful tools and teachers for their own self-awareness journeys. My new menu tabs include Noteworthy Resources, such as podcasts, books and Instagram influencers. Inspirational Quotes is another new tab. These are impactful quotes that guided me to start the personal growth journey and motivate me to stay committed to the ongoing work. Best of all, many of these inspirational quotes come from relatable peers who are deeply steeped in doing their own work.

When I first started Inspired New Horizons six years ago, my goal was to share with others what I was learning through my self-discovery journey with the intention that it might help others on their own path of personal growth. To be honest, I felt pretty alone in the process at that time. It was not a topic of regular conversation among most of my friends. My secondary goal with my blog was to keep myself committed and accountable to the inner work I was doing. I’m not only still doing that work six years later, it has become a part of my daily routine.

I credit Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle for the growing community that is keeping me so inspired these days. Glennon’s book Untamed unleashed a groundswell of women who began to look at their lives through very different lenses. Her “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast and her Facebook discussion groups opened up the floodgates of women wanting to share their stories and dig deeper into some serious personal development. Brene has been on fast-moving upward trajectory to get us to embrace our authentic selves and to shed ourselves of protective armor, numbing, debilitating behavioral patterns, and painful triggers. She calls for us to step into our vulnerability, courage and creativity and live a wholehearted life, rooted in grounded confidence.

Brene’s work has created several global discussion groups that I belong to, and honestly the conversations have been real, raw, meaningful and purposeful. All throughout the pandemic, I found ballast from the news and political chaos, in these discussions. I’ve made friends, gained followers for this blog and my Instagram posts, discovered incredible activists and had my faith in humanity restored. The diverse perspectives and heart-opening stories that are shared serves as a healthy reminder of the power of connection and empathy that Brene espouses.

I mentioned in a recent blog post entitled Becoming Part of Something Bigger how Brene’s latest book, Atlas of the Heart is an impactful reference book for anyone who is committed to personal development. She taps into the wisdom and research of so many of the teachers I’ve used over the past six years. This prompted me to make changes to my blog website to help others easily find these resources. It’s my hope that my personal stories will help others feel less alone when they peel back their own layers.

And this brings me to one of the most dramatic changes I have experienced and witnessed because of self-discovery and improved self-awareness. My close circle of friends these days is comprised of women with whom I can have deep, emotional conversations. No subject is off limits, no confidence will be betrayed, no judgment or dismissing of feelings. I have a beautiful jar of diverse, empassioned marble jar friends. My marble jar friends have revealed to me that they too now have the most remarkable collection of trust buddies. Somehow, over the past few years each of us has drawn to us the women we needed to help us excavate our histories, reframe them, and shine a light on all our potential and possibilities.

It is my hope that my blog posts will inspire others on their journey. I’m going to keep sharing my stories, the lessons I am learning and relearning, and the benefits that come from self-reflection and embracing change. I wrote a post entitled Awareness Activist some time ago — it is where I feel I make a meaningful contribution in this world. We cannot change what we are unaware of — and once we become aware, we can make better choices — for ourselves and others.

Wishing you Peace, Love, Joy and Hope in the coming New Year.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE:

I’m offering only one resource to accompany this post today. The reason is that this podcast is so relevant for reflecting on the past year and our own past, as well as for looking forward and pondering what will best support and guide us. I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest.

How to Get the Most Out of 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lz17LizwD8

Becoming Part of Something Bigger

When I first began my self-discovery journey about six years ago, I had no idea what incredible gifts I would find along the way. At the onset, I was cobbling together teachings from notable mindfulness gurus like Pema Chodrun, Deepak Chopra and Thich Nhat Hahn. I relied on Mindfulness Magazine and SoundsTrue.org to help me find teachers and tools that would guide me. I contributed at least a dozen of the 60 million views to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability.

I felt a lot like Alice in Wonderland when the Chesire Cat offered his wisdom. I had no idea where I was going on this personal growth journey, I just knew in the deepest part of me that something had to change. I had a few breadcrumb clues to work with (patterns that I was discovering as I reflected on my 60+ years), and a 1,000 piece puzzle of both good and not so good pieces of my life. I knew I wanted to heal from heartbreak, to gain some traction in becoming a better version of myself, and above all to live a peaceful, meaningful rest of my life.

Little did I know that I was part of something bigger than I could have ever imagined — a growing community of like-minded people who were hungering for change and who were willing to look at themselves as the starting point for that desired positive change. It became evident that “inner work” was an emerging new path for self-help, enlightenment and personal growth. What fascinated me was how neuroscience was weaving its way into relevant conversations about evolving into our best selves. It is not only possible, it is incredibly beneficial, to rewire our brains for an enriched quality of life.

Last year, I wrote a blog post about how this entire field of inner work and personal growth has grown exponentially over the past five years — and how collectively so many different disciplines, resources and tools are merging to create a solid framework for anyone who wants to proactively address their mental well being and quality of life. Best of all, it is so mainstream now that the stigma associated with counseling, therapy and mental health is loosening its grip. We can almost hear and feel the collective sigh of relief and release. We are long overdue in getting to know our true, authentic selves.

I don’t offer that last sentence lightly. The real transformational change that humanity needs begins by truly knowing ourselves. Brene Brown has been shedding light for years on all the ways that we armor up to hide and protect our vulnerabilities. Yet it is our vulnerabilities that forge our strongest connections and are the birthplace of innovation, change and creativity — the very things that get us unstuck from old patterns and behaviors that just are no longer working.

We think that words like “love, trust and vulnerability” are gauzy and mushy — that they lack the strength, endurance and conviction to bring about meaningful change and deep connection. Well, prepare to be amazed — these words convey an enduring personal empowerment and an undeniable shift to growing self-awareness, perspective-taking and cultivating empathy. When we invest the time and work in truly getting to know ourselves, we shed the heavy armor that gets in our way and weighs us down. We live more at ease, comfortable in our own skin and stories. We have room to grow in the expansiveness we’ve created by purging what is no longer needed.

I remember very early on in my personal growth journey the words of Pema Chodrun. She said that once we know ourselves, we will in turn get to know others better too. This is a compelling message that Brene offers to us in her newest book Atlas of the Heart. Brene encourages us to do our inner work so that we can show up in life with “grounded confidence” in ourselves. It is from that deeply rooted place of self-trust that we can in turn engage with others with empathy, awareness and courage.

Just imagine “showing up” in your relationships with skills and tools that foster compassion, respect, non-judgment, safety and trust — instead of old armor that often leads to shaming, blaming, dismissing or avoiding.

Today, If anyone were to ask the Chesire Cat the best path to self-discovery, I am fairly certain that he would mindfully hand them this most incredible book — The Atlas of the HeartMapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. As Brene shares “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”

I just finished reading this book a few days ago. It had a profound impact on me. I have been on my committed practice of self discovery and personal growth for six years and what I discovered about myself while reading Brene’s work, was both healing and revealing.

“The lack of self-awareness in folks is not overcomeable without language and the study of emotion. We are not rational, cognitive Vulcans — we are emotional beings. People are trying so desperately to become more self-aware without the lexicon and language to do it. It feels (this book) like something completely different than I have ever done and also the culmination of all my work.” — Brene Brown during her Unlocking Us podcast, Part 3 of A Sisters BookClub on Atlas of the Heart.

Normally at the end of my blog posts, I share my recommended resources with all of you. Today, the only recommended resource I’ll share is this beautiful, hearty, impactful, colorful, inspirational, incredible book. The bonus I’ll throw in is simply to listen to the 3 part Sister series on Unlocking Us where Brene and her twin sisters, Ashley and Barrett, have a book club discussion about Atlas of the Heart. You can listen to Unlocking Us for free on Spotify. You can also find show notes and links to every episode at https://brenebrown.com

Genuine Listening

I found myself in a bit of a conundrum recently. I was fully committed to leaning into my courage and being honest about how some things were landing on me. This meant that I also had to state my boundaries (again). This has always been something that I’ve struggled with – it feels so darned uncomfortable not to mention extremely vulnerable. It can be especially hard for me to share my hurt feelings with those I love. Yet I have made a commitment to myself to do hard things and to develop better navigational skills for just these sorts of relationship conversations. The problem? I entered familiar territory with a new strategy, but the receiver of my message of how I was feeling went into defense mode. Almost instantaneously I could feel that old familiar paradigm washing over both of us. It would have been so easy to fall into our old patterns and roles. But this time, I declined to play my old role and I stay grounded and calm.

I’d love to tell you that there was a quick, happy ending – with hugs and humor. That was not the case.

While the scenario played out much like it always has in the past, it was me who brought a new conviction to the situation. I knew I could not control how my conversation would be received. The only thing I could control was how I chose to respond in return. This is where real change takes place for me — when I make a conscious decision to choose a new path. I will only ever get a different result in the way I am treated if I stay committed to my self-worth and the boundaries that support my values. As a life-long people pleaser and conflict avoider, this will probably always be a work in progress for me.

I learned a lot from being both an observer and a participant in this interaction. Mindfulness and meditation practice have been instrumental in helping me to straddle these two perspectives. I made a lot of mental notes and later poured them out into my journal. Journaling helps me to sort through my emotions, another’s emotions and reactions, and differing points of view. It is often through journaling that I gain a deeper understanding of myself and why certain situations matter so much to me. In this case, it was not all surprising to recognize myself on both sides of the fence.

You see, I was on the receiving end of someone trying to insist that their idea was best for me but I had stated clearly that I did not want that. I used to be that person – the helper — who would jump in and “fix things” even when my help was not wanted or needed. Ugh….so that is what it feels like to be steamrollered by good intentions and poor “listening to understand” skills. Naturally, the person trying to help me solve a problem (and not even the right problem), was hurt that I would not be appreciative of their efforts and their thoughtfulness. (Oh my, I have been that wounded helper so many times in the past.)

On the other side of the fence, is the new me, trying my best to set and hold boundaries, to honor myself by stating clearly what I want or need. It was important to me that my wishes would be respected. The reason this is such a tender and vulnerable issue for me is that for many years, I would acquiesce to keep the peace, I would sacrifice my own needs and desires to placate others, and I was often afraid that I would lose treasured relationships if I held my ground. The tap root for all this people pleasing and timid behavior was embedded in my childhood experiences.

Since boundaries are something that I am striving to develop with confidence and conviction, I am trying to practice new skills with what seem like relatively small matters. What I discovered was that even a small situation can be fueled with a lot of emotions, defensiveness, misunderstanding and poor listening.

Ironic isn’t it — that I could see myself as both the over-zealous helper and the evolving person striving to set clear boundaries. What a rich lesson for me to absorb. It is a reminder that when we get to know ourselves better, we also gain a greater awareness and empathy for others.

It just so happened that I came across some invaluable insight from Dr. Rick Hanson just as I was processing all of this:

It was those words — “the restraint of reactive patterns in order to stay present with another person” that stopped me in my tracks. What I had wanted most during that hard, heated conversation was to be heard — and what I was learning from my own part in that same conversation was the value of genuine listening. Listening to understand. Genuine listening that moves us to truly hear what another person wants us to know about their most vulnerable places.

Too often, we find ourselves unconsciously falling into the same old conversations and familiar but ineffective patterns. Judgements and defensiveness are roadblocks that lead to dead ends. Dr. Hanson offers a better way for us to enter these challenging conversations — by being open to hearing how someone really feels.

This does require that we tap into our empathy and that we pay attention to old reactive patterns (our own and another person’s). So many times, our actions are well-intended, but we miss the opportunity to respect how it might land on someone.

Making a genuine effort to change how we “show up” for each other in these hard conversations can have a transformational impact in our relationships.

Listening to understand creates a bridge for a better conversation — and a deeper connection. And did you know that repairing a misunderstanding or a wrongdoing can actually strengthen a relationship?

Relationships also grow stronger and flow more easily the better we know each other. Just as we are careful with the sensitivities of young children, we can work to be more cognizant of these tender places with our friends and family. Some of those tender places are the wellspring of the best attributes of people we love.

There is a happy ending to my story. It took a few days and several more conversations — and yes, there were a few good laughs to boot. (Did you know that laugher completes a stress cycle?).

Perhaps the best take-away from this whole experience is that I earned a merit badge in the personal growth department. I am finding solid footing for expressing my boundaries and I am able to refrain from getting caught in old, unhealthy emotional swirls. It really feels good to use my tools and get a favorable result in the end, even if I still need a lot more practice.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Dr. Rick Hanson – Check out Dr. Hanson’s many resources including his books, podcasts, newsletters, and courses. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily doses of practical wisdom and insight.

https://www.rickhanson.net/rick-hanson/

Nedra Tawwab – Therapist, NY Times Bestselling Author and Relationship Expert – Nedra is best known for her work on boundaries! Follow her on Instagram “NedrasNuggets” for daily doses of inspiration for setting, holding and honoring boundaries.

https://www.nedratawwab.com

Elizabeth Earnshaw, Clinical Psychologist, Author, Gottman Institute Trained Counselor — Elizabeth is one of my favorite young resources for sound relationship advice and experienced guide for invaluable tools to navigate all of our most important relationships. Follow her on Instagram — LizListens

https://www.drlizlistens.com